All in the family: 5 dynamic father-son, daughter duos in spine surgery


Some apples don't fall far from the tree. For father-son and father-daughter spine and neurosurgeon teams, that distance can sometimes be microscopic.

It's rare in healthcare to find a family with two physicians in the same specialty, especially as fewer physicians report recommending a career in medicine to their children. However, there have been a spine surgeons in recent years who not only encourage their children's interest in the family business, but ushered them into the operating room.


Here are five father-son and father-daughter teams in spine surgery to know:


Ronald DeWald, MD, and Christopher DeWald, MD, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush


Dr. Ronald DeWald was a national leader in scoliosis treatment who received the Scoliosis Research Society 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. He practiced at Rush University Medical Center where a professorship is named after him — the Ronald L. DeWald, M.D., Professor — currently Gunnar B.J. Andersson, MD. However, Dr. Ronald DeWald's son also has a focus on spine and scoliosis correction in his practice at Rush.


Dr. Christopher DeWald began his career practicing alongside his father, taking over more patients as Dr. Ronald DeWald neared retirement. Now, Dr. Christopher DeWald is the head of the spinal deformity division at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and a member of the Scoliosis Research Society. He also serves on editorial boards for peer review journals and completed an international fellowship in Germany, France and Japan.


Together, the father-son duo has more than 40 years of experience in scoliosis research at Rush and both train new fellows in the field.


Ed Kosnik, MD, and Libby Kosnik Infinger, MD, of Medical University of South Carolina


After serving as a pediatric neurosurgeon for almost 40 years, Dr. Kosnik has the opportunity to work alongside his daughter, chief resident at of neurosurgery MUSC, according to a Live 5 WCSC report. He suspended his retirement in 2013 to join the neurosurgery department at MUSC, where his daughter was a resident, according to The Post and Courier. He previously practiced pediatric neurosurgery in Columbus, Ohio.


While Dr. Kosnik Infinger knew from a young age she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps, Dr. Kosnik didn't know about her interest until she applied to medical school.


Dr. Kosnik Infinger learned a lot from her father — not only about the practice of medicine, but about approaching patients as though they were her family members. The two operated side-by-side at MUSC and report their patients were supportive of the "father-daughter" team. Now she is headed to a one-year fellowship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital to specialize in pediatric neurosurgery, like her father.


Robert Watkins III, MD, and Robert Watkins IV, MD of Watkins Spine


Dr. Watkins III is among the spine surgeon elites in the country, a fixture of the North American Spine Society — which he helped found — and noted for his work with professional athletes. He's counseled and performed surgery on some of the country's premier athletes — including NFL quarterback Peyton Manning — and instructed a generation of spine surgeons on the intricacies of sports medicine. One of the young men intrigued with his line of work was his son, who eventually became a practice partner.


Dr. Watkins IV is a leader in his own right; he is co-director of the Marina Spine Center and chairman of the surgery department at Marina Del Rey Hospital. He has a professional interest in artificial disc replacement — which he studied on a traveling fellowship in Europe — and led research teams that published studies in the literature. He also has a special focus on image-guided spine surgery, at the suggestion of his father, according to a report in the Argonaut Online.


Both have dedicated their careers to treating patients, research, lectures and helping advance the careers of others, and despite changes in healthcare each has built a strong foundation for the future. As Dr. Watkins IV said in a Becker's Spine Review report, "The key to being a spine surgeon leader in the field today is continually improving patient care. There are a lot of impediments to proper patient care in the form of declining payments, unrealistic expectations and denial to tests and treatments. Spine surgeons need to be resilient and stay focused on the only priority that ultimately matters: delivering high quality care to each individual patient."


Anthony Yeung, MD, and Christopher Yeung, MD, Desert Institute for Spine Care


Dr. Anthony Yeung, who founded Desert Institute for Spine Care and developed the FDA-approved Yeung Endoscopic Spine System, is considered a world leader in spine surgery. Dr. Christopher Yeung isn't far behind. Dr. Anthony Yeung taught his son the YESS procedure and now the two are among the few surgeons to perform this minimally invasive technique in an outpatient surgery center. However, more surgeons are now able to train on this and other minimally invasive techniques thanks to Dr. Anthony Yeung's $2.5 million donation to the University of New Mexico Hospital for training the next generation of surgeons.


Dr. Anthony Yeung is also the president of the World Congress of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeons and executive director of the Intradiscal Therapy Society. Dr. Christopher Yeung has proven leadership qualities as well, serving as principle investigator for FDA studies including Flexicore lumbar artificial disc replacement, Cervicore cervical artificial disc replacement and DASCOR total nucleus replacement.


Dr. Christopher Yeung also serves as a team spine surgeon for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds.


Gerardo Zavala Sr., MD, and Gerardo Zavala II, MD, of Neurosurgery and Spine Consultants


This father-son neurosurgery team founded their practice — Neurosurgery and Spine Consultants — in San Antonio and recently added a third neurosurgeon, Ladislau Albert Jr., MD, to the mix, according to a San Antonio MD News report. Dr. Zavala II noticed his father's passion for neurosurgery and ability to help others, which left an impression on him. During medical school, Dr. Zavala II solidified his choice in neurosurgery because the specialty included so many different components — emergency medicine, elective surgery and complex medical management.


Originally from Mexico, Dr. Zavala Sr., served in private practice for more than 35 years and has a special interest in brain and spinal cord procedures. Dr. Zavala II completed a fellowship at Loyola Medical University Center in Maywood, Ill., and has extensive training in minimally invasive spine surgery procedures.


He has also served as director of neurosurgery and the stroke program at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital and current director of neurosurgery at Southwest General Hospital.


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